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Talking with Kids: Conversation Skills for Kids

Updated on September 6, 2012

More and more it seems that conversation is becoming a lost art in our society. In a digital age where many parents find even their youngest children distracted by all forms of technology, conversations are limited. Yet, for young children, having consistent, meaningful conversations with those around them is of the utmost importance.

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Why do conversation skills matter?

Young children need to engage in active conversations for the following reasons:

1. Language Development-From birth children are surrounded in a world full of language. As they begin to develop their own oral language, the influence of the adults around them is imperative. Hearing others speak begins the process of learning how language works. They learn phonemic, semantic, syntactic and contextual awareness. This development is so individual that there is no way to know when each child begins to develop these skills

2. Relationship Building-Children are learning about life every single day. One important lesson is how to begin and maintain healthy relationships. Whether you are a parent, family member, teacher or friend to a child, your relationship serves as a model for future relationships. Engaging in rich discussions teaches a child how to be an active participant in life.

3. Discovery of the World-Talking with a child creates an opportunity for you to reveal something to them about the world around them. Going grocery shopping? Your conversation might reveal more about culture, how food is prepared (through finding appropriate ingredients for a recipe), or even how to create a shopping list and follow through with it. For a child, everything is a lesson and conversations are one vehicle in their learning process.

4. Reasoning-Children are learning to think. Conversations encourage children to think about new ideas, develop questions and make decisions. Nothing could be more important than encouraging children to think and make decisions for themselves. This later helps a child become more independent and self-sufficient.

5. Understanding of Diversity -Young children are naturally self-centered; they see the world as revolving around them. Through interaction with different human beings children learn that there are many different kinds of people with differing ideas, life styles and opinions. Through interaction with others they begin to develop understanding and acceptance of differences. Rich and frequent conversations with a wide variety of people can even teach child how valuable diversity and discussion can be as we each have something special to contribute.

Ask the right questions!

How to Have a Conversation-A Refresher

Put simply, conversations include speaking, listening and thinking. Children and adults often need help:

1. Sticking to the Topic-A conversation has a natural and organic progression that works best when it is not forced or dictated but followed. Sticking to a topic means discussing a subject through to a natural stop point or digression. Sometimes sticking to the topic means accepting when and where it changes.

2. Waiting on “Turn” versus Listening-Often people stay quiet just long enough to let your get your thought out without actively listening. While someone else is talking, listening intently makes for clear understanding of someone else’s views.

3. Listening Effectively-Enough cannot be said for listening since from the moment we begin to speak we all seem to enjoy the sounds of our own voices! Listening to another person’s ideas with the intent to gain understanding is a major component of conversation.

4. Elaborating-“The devil is in the details” is absolutely true when having a conversation. Adding details and description to conversation makes it more interesting and clear for all parties involved.

5. Body Language and Tone-Finally, body language and tone effect a conversation greatly. Eye-contact and using an appropriate tone helps determine how your point of view will be interpreted.

How to Engage a Child in a Discussion

1. Talk at the end of the day- Talking to your child in the evening is a great way to find out more about what is happening in his or her life and mind. Questions might include “How was your day?” “Did anything new or exciting happen?” “How are your friendships going?”

2. Play a Game- Games like “Would you rather...” are not just for adults! “Would you rather be invisible or be able to fly?” I once had a 1st grade student answer she would rather be herself because she likes herself “just right.” Language games such as this one are easy, fun and free. Other games include “Finish the sentence” (“If I were a bear, I would….”). Also, I have started using wonderful Story Dice in the class and found them a great way to develop fun, spontaneous stories.

3. Ask Their Opinion- Children have minds of their own! If you ask their pinion, on any topic they have even the slightest background knowledge, they will answer with frankness and thought. I frequently asked students their opinions and they LOVE sharing!

4. Ask for Explanations- Children often talk on a variety of subjects at any given moment. A conversation can be started by simply asking “Why?” For example, if while riding in the car a child state, "Look! The sun is going down!" Simply ask him or her "Why?" and the answer may delight or even surprise you!

5. Tell Stories- Storytelling is a wonderful way to practice talking and listening. Share a story with your child and then let them tell you one! This can be done anytime, anywhere and never gets old or boring. Can you tell a true story? A make believe one? A holiday themed one? A number story? The list goes on!


No matter how you chose to engage a child in a conversation, I encourage you to start somewhere and continue this wonderful work! Developing children is everyone’s job and together, we can each work to teach children how to be useful, productive citizens!

Conversatins at Home

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